Portland Trail Blazers 95, Oklahoma City Thunder 111 Recap: Bad Habits Return as Guards Shut Aldridge Out of Offense and Blazers Out of Defense

Aldridge is touching the ball here. Ergo this picture was not snapped in the fourth quarter. Photo: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

In a Nutshell

The Blazers get blown away by an Oklahoma City team toying with them. Portland's guard corps put up nifty offensive numbers in a futile cause.

Game Flow

The Blazers came out in similar fashion to the Chicago game: loose offense, loose defense. While their attack looked relaxed early, they shot quickly, and players were shooting without looking over their shoulders, that didn't lead to better shots. There's a difference between moving the ball and attacking. The Blazers got on the wrong end of that difference early tonight as their passes led to shots farther and farther outside. A little looking over the shoulder might have helped. Also similar to Friday night: "loose defense" is not a compliment. The Blazers didn't close on shooters. The Blazers didn't rebound. Throw in a couple turnovers and the Blazers were in trouble. More relaxed? Yeah. But the Blazers "relaxed" their way to a 31-15 deficit after one.

The big story of the second period was Portland's attempt at zone defense. Not moving their feet any more than they did in man-to-man, it was a disaster. Those who were watching the last VideoCast know that the purpose of zone defense is preventing dribble penetration. When you see opponents penetrating unopposed into the lane and scoring or flipping an easy pass against a zone defense you know that zone is going wrong. The Blazers saved themselves scoring a few layups in the early part of the period and a couple threes in the middle and end but they could only tread water. OKC led by 15, 57-42, at the half. 42 isn't a disaster but it isn't great. 57? That's hard to overcome.

The third period started with the Blazers making a game attempt to score but gaining no ground. They soon settled into the deadly combination of walking the ball up the floor and going 1-on-whomever to try and score it. That turned into drought city. Felton snapped them out of it towards the end of the period with a couple drives and Portland canned some deep shots too, reminiscent of the second period. But the Thunder matched their hot streak nearly shot for shot. You can't come back on half of a period's work and you can't come back working only on one end of the court. Portland still trailed by 14, 84-70, after three.

Early in the fourth period the Blazers decided to replace defense with fouling, hacking the Thunder on every drive. Portland went into the penalty with 8:50 remaining. The Thunder didn't end up needing the advantage but it sat there in their back pocket. Portland's offense became the Jamal Crawford show, as the guiltless gunner attempted 11 shots in the period. He made some but it hardly mattered. Portland's forwards, their true advantage, were out of the offense and generally checked out of the game as Crawford and his backcourt cohorts hijacked the proceedings. The game was never in doubt. Oklahoma City won the period by 2 and the game by 16, 111-95.

Take-Away Points

So much for the feel-good era. The defense was horrid tonight. Oklahoma City is good, but 55% shooting and all the points they needed to win is a little much. The main culprits were, oddly enough, also the same guys who dominated the ball and shot a bunch on offense. It's not that Portland's bigs were that great either, but man...nobody closed out all night long, nobody stopped their men from driving, and those guards blew reads all over the place. About the only thing the Blazer smalls did right was get back in transition. Sadly, Oklahoma City didn't need the fast-break points. The Blazers had better re-figure-out that you win games on the defensive end in this league unless your offense is can't miss.

The farther the fourth period progressed the farther the Blazers went away from Aldridge, to the point he was reduced to demanding the ball in the late and just charging his way to shots, which he missed. Now granted, people are going to say Crawford was on fire while Aldridge had missed shots during this game. But Crawford had missed too, he just didn't quit shooting. Plus don't you love it when the opposing team goes away from its star even if somebody else gets hot for a while...especially if that somebody doesn't defend much? I'm pretty sure that's how the Thunder feel about Crawford getting hot. They'll take it. Maybe this is OK for one game but if the end-of-season Blazers are going to be a guard show while Aldridge and Batum watch, this is going to get ugly. It also doesn't help the vaunted "future" that people keep talking about.

Individual Notes

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 15 on 6-19 shooting with 6 rebounds and 3 turnovers. You saw the drawbacks to the elbow position tonight. It requires him to dribble, the shots come from farther out, it's easier to double, and he really needs somebody reliable to pass to on the cut or weak side jumper...neither of which he has. His quality looks tonight came down low, not up high.

Nicolas Batum played 40 minutes, not that you'd know it. He attempted only 7 shots and apart from a flurry late in the 3rd his was invisible on offense. The defense was pretty good early but failed late. And you know if those guards weren't looking for LMA they really weren't looking for Nic. He did have 6 rebounds to go with his 6 points.

Joel Przybilla played 24 heroic minutes and had 11 rebounds plus 2 blocks. He got tired in the second half though. Even 24 looked a little much for him.

Raymond Felton charged in bursts in the first and third periods. He shot 6-10, 2-3 from distance, 5-7 from the line for 19 points plus 7 assists and 4 turnovers. It's a good line. The caveat is that he looked like the pre-Portland Felton, most comfortable when in scoring mode. That's good news, considering the Portland-era Felton has looked awful. But scoring-mode Felton may not be what the Blazers need exactly. It's an improvement, but at a tangent.

Wesley Matthews went 3-3 from beyond the arc and looked great on his jumper, hitting 6-12 overall for 16 points and 4 steals. Outside of those steals the defense was so-so. Also he was getting smacked repeatedly on drives.

Jamal Crawford was like a kid in a candy store, shooting 10-22, 3-9 from distance for 23 points. 23 points is fantastic. 22 shots to get it? It's not Iverson-esque but it's close. For all of that shooting and scoring, the Blazers never closed the gap.

Kurt Thomas had a bad night, committed 3 personal fouls and looking mighty frustrated in 8 minutes of play.

Craig Smith had a worse night, committing 3 personal fouls--two of them downright stupid when the Blazers were mounting a comeback--in 7 minutes of play. He committed a foul not getting a free-throw rebound and another clipping James Harden (1-7 on the evening) as Harden was lofting an extremely deep bail-out three at the shot-clock buzzer.

Nolan Smith had another nice offensive effort, going 4-6 for 8 points and 2 assists in 14 minutes.

Luke Babbitt had an offensive rebound and 2 points on 1-3 shooting in 11 minutes.

Fun With Numbers

  • Thunder 55.4% shooting. The Blazers shot a nice 46.5% but it didn't matter.
  • The Blazers shot impressively from the arc again, hitting 8 of 21 for 38%. Unfortunately the Thunder shot 11 of 18 for 61%. Yes, behind the three-point arc. I mentioned that nobody closed out, right?
  • At least the Blazers had some offensive rebounds with 11. Those and an impressive (for Portland) 8 fast break points helped account for 48 points in the paint...a great total.
  • Oklahoma City only scored 44 points in the paint but the asterisk to that is the Blazers treating them to 28 free throw attempts, many of them on the drive for sure paint points.
  • OKC is a non-assist team. They had 24 tonight. The Blazers are supposedly embarking on a higher-motion, more ball-movement-oriented offense. They had 15 assists.
  • Portland kept the turnovers low at 12, preventing a total blowout.

Final Thoughts

The Blazers go 2-5 on the harsh road trip...not a complete disaster but not good. At least they're back home for 8 of 10 now. If they don't find some defensive intensity, though, it won't matter.

Welcome to Loud City will talk about the routine win.

Trail Blazers vs Thunder boxscore

Your Jersey Contest Scoreboard and the form for Tuesday's game.

--Dave

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